“Do you find the defendant guilty or not guilty?” We never got to decide.

From: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trial_by_Jury

“Now, Jurymen, hear my advice —
All kinds of vulgar prejudice
I pray you set aside:
With stem judicial frame of mind.
From bias free of every kind.
This trial must be tried.”

First produced at the Royalty Theatre, London, on 25 March 1875, Trial by Jury was the first of 13 Savoy operas (and only the second collaboration) between librettist Sir WS Gilbert (with whom I share my birthday) and composer Sir Arthur Sullivan, others including The Mikado, HMS Pinafore, and The Pirates of Penzance.

The quotation above, sung by the Usher almost at the very start of the opera, exhorts the members of the jury to fulfill their duties faithfully. So what has this to do with me?

In mid-October I received a summons to attend Worcester Crown Court on 16 December to serve on a jury. Since it’s a legal requirement to serve, and I had no extenuating circumstances that would prevent me serving, I duly completed the summons form and waited for further information. Funnily enough, only a few weeks beforehand, I had wondered if or when I might be called for jury service since it had never happened before. Names are selected at random from the Electoral Register.

So my schedule was set, and I had to commit two weeks for the court. About a couple of weeks ago however, I received a phone call from the court advising that since too many potential jurors had been summoned on the same day, they wished to re-schedule my attendance for the beginning of February next year. But as I’m working on a part-time consultancy for the 4th International Rice Congress in Bangkok in October 2014, and I need to be in contact with colleagues in the Philippines and Thailand on a regular basis – and I’d already informed everyone that I would be tied up with jury service from 16 December – I was able to keep to the originally agreed schedule.

The wheels of justice turn ever so slowly
Early on the Monday morning (16 December) I caught the 08:23 train to Worcester so I would get to the court by the agreed time of 09:15. As the train journey from Bromsgrove was only 18 minutes (and on time), I arrived in good time, especially as the court building is only a couple of hundred meters from the station in Worcester. And at the court I joined 29 other potential jurors. We were escorted to the jury waiting room on the first floor in readiness for a briefing. Little did I realize then that I’d  come to know that room very well indeed.

Following the briefing of what to expect as a juror (with a very informative DVD to explain all the details) we were divided into two groups of 15, and told to be ready to go into court shortly. In fact the other group from mine were immediately ‘partially released’ until 14:00 when their case was expected to begin. Our group sat and waited until 13:00 expecting to be called into court at any moment, only to be released for lunch until 14:00. At 15:10 we were informed that the defendant had changed his plea to guilty, and we would be no longer needed for the day, and could go home. But with the proviso that we had to ring in after 16:30 to check if we were needed the following day.

I had to return to court on the Tuesday morning, but only at 10:30. It was then we discovered that only 15 of the original 30 had been recalled, and we were a mix of the two groups. And again we sat around, while (apparently) the defence and prosecution counsel and the judge discussed various matters relevant to the case. Just after 13:00  we were told that both defendants had changed their plea to guilty and there would be no trial. And furthermore, we were being ‘released completely’ and did not have to return again. The previous morning we’d been told that the week before Christmas was a good week to be called for jury service, since the courts were trying to schedule cases to be completed during the week, and in any case, the trial judges would be replaced with new ones in the New Year.

So that’s the extent of my jury service: almost 10 hours sitting in a side room waiting to be called. I’ve completed my civic duty, answered the summons for jury service, and never even got to see the inside of a court room. If I am summoned in the next two years I can refuse, but after that I have to attend again. When I turn 70 I will no longer be eligible for jury service.

And so let me finish the short piece with a video of the judge’s song from Trial by Jury (taken from the 1953 film of the Gilbert and Sullivan story). I never had chance to see if ‘our’ judge had some interesting tales to tell:


It was colder than a witch’s tit . . .

Yes. It was that cold.

Having lived in some pretty hot places around the world over the past 40 years, I’d never experienced cold like that until then.

When? Well it was Christmas 2007, and Steph and I spent Christmas with Hannah and Michael in St Paul, Minnesota. And having flown in from the Philippines on Christmas Eve (and arriving in Minnesota almost before we departed the Philippines), you can imagine that super low temperatures came as a bit of a shock to the system. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

In all the almost 19 years in the Philippines we spent Christmas there, often heading to the beach for some well-deserved R&R, some diving, and generally lazing around under the tropical sun, except for four occasions when we visited Australia (twice) and once each to Hong Kong (and Macau) and Angkor Wat in Cambodia.

However, in 2007, I thought it would be fun to experience Christmas in a cold climate so, in my devious way, set about planning a Christmas break in Minnesota. Hannah had moved (as an undergraduate) to St Paul in 1998, and has settled there with husband Michael (and now children Callum and Zoë). Anyway, in about September of that year, I contacted Hannah and asked her if we could come and spend Christmas with them – if her Mum was willing to travel. Of course, Hannah was delighted at the idea and immediately said ‘Yes!’. Then I tackled Steph, asking her if she liked the idea of Christmas with Hannah and Michael. It didn’t take her long to agree – even though she has never been a fan of long-distance travel.

Unbeknown to either Hannah or Steph, I had already made Business Class reservations with Northwest Airlines, to depart on Christmas Eve (arriving to Minneapolis-St Paul, MSP, that same day), returning on New Year’s Eve, and back home on New Year’s Day. Originally our schedule was to fly to MSP via Tokyo (Narita) and Detroit, but about a week before flying seats opened on the direct Narita-MSP.

That was very fortunate as a major blizzard had moved through the Midwest just a couple of days before Christmas Eve and caused all manner of travel disruption, and our journey would have been even more tedious had we had to fly via Detroit.

There wasn’t a cloud in the a clear blue sky as we came into land at MSP, but we could see that a lot of snow had fallen within the previous 24-48 hours. Hannah and Michael were at the airport to meet us, and Hannah had brought along several items of warm clothing for Steph who didn’t have any in the Philippines since it was way below zero (Fahrenheit!). I was OK, since I often used to travel to the US or Europe during the winter months and had to have appropriate warm clothing to hand. From the airport we headed off to Target for a quick shop of extra clothes for Steph. We were amazed at how clear all the main roads were, eve tough there had been at least a couple of feet of snow.

Christmas Day was quite special. Not only was it nice to be with family, but it really did have a special traditional feel about it, sitting in front of a roaring log fire, opening presents, having a wee dram or three, and anticipating an excellent Christmas lunch of turkey.

We sat down to eat around 3 pm. It was just getting dark, the neighbors had switched on their Christmas lights (something that has grown in popularity here in the UK in the past few years), and then magic – it began to snow. Well, I’m now 65, and this for me was just about my first white Christmas. Even though there was food on the table, Steph and I had to go outside and experience that magic first hand.

Over the course of the next few days, Steph and I got to experience what ‘real cold’ was all about. It certainly was rather bracing heading out for a daily walk. But, by the same token, it was an experience that I thoroughly enjoyed, even though I don’t think I would recommend living somewhere that gets that cold.

All too soon our Minnesota sojourn was over, and on New Year’s Eve we headed back to MSP to catch a midday flight to Narita and on to Manila, arriving late at night on New Year’s Day. Great to be home, but pleased Continue reading

Something for your Christmas stocking – Plant Genetic Resources and Climate Change hits the shelves 11 December!

It’s taken just over two and half years, more than 2,400 emails, and many, many hours of editing. But Plant Genetic Resources and Climate Change, edited by myself, Brian Ford-Lloyd and Martin Parry will be published by CABI on 11 December.

Brian was first approached by CABI commissioning editor Vicki Bonham in April 2011. He was reluctant to take on the book by himself, but suggested to Vicki that the project would be feasible if he could persuade Martin and me to be co-editors. I was on vacation in the USA at the time, visiting the Grand Canyon and other locations in Arizona and New Mexico when Brian first contacted me about the possible project. Getting involved in a new book was the last thing on my mind.

The next steps were to produce an outline of the book and find authors whose arms we could twist to contribute a chapter. In the end the book has 16 chapters, as I have described elsewhere. Only two authors let us down and never completed a chapter before we met our deadline with CABI. The contract with CABI was signed in February 2012, and we submitted the final edited chapters by the end of March this year. After that things moved quite fast. We completed the review of page proofs by mid-September, and the figures a couple of weeks later. Early on we agreed I should take on the role of managing editor as I was the only one who was fully ‘retired’ at that time.

Martin Parry

And on Monday this week, David Porter (Books Marketing Manager at CABI) and his colleague Sarah Hilliar came up to Birmingham to video Brian and me (and two other authors, Nigel Maxted and Jeremy Pritchard of the University of Birmingham) for a short promotional video about the book. Unfortunately, Martin Parry was unable to join us.

So now the hard work is over and Plant Genetic Resources and Climate Change is about to be published. There are many interesting key messages, and the preface provides an excellent guide to the rest of the book.